Football Debates Move to the Internet in Egypt
About 12 million internet users in Egypt spend most of their working hours chatting about football on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Google.
Once they threw chairs at each other and argued over endless cups of coffee. Now, the heated debates that rage among fans about Egyptian football have moved on to the internet. And a new debate has started, about whether the cyberspace chatter about football is harming the country's economy.
The chatter reaches its peak when the country's two main rivals, Zamalek and Al-Alhy, play each other. Verbal barbs are hrurled back and forth over the internet and on sites like Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Twitter.
"We eat football. We pray football. We talk football all the time. It's sad when your team loses. The cheapest means to discuss match outcomes with friends is through Facebook or Yahoo. Even our bosses do it and that's normal for us now," said Ahmed Mohsen, a young Al-Alhy fan.
Media experts estimate there are about 100,000 English-speaking Egyptians on Facebook while about 15 percent, or 12 million of the Arab country's population, are regular internet users.
"I can't work anytime my team losses," Mohsen said. "It becomes the topic for discussion at work all day. When you are a rival supporter you become the subject of office jokes. Sometimes I feel like committing suicide when the jokes get too much."
The situation is not any different for non-social network users. They usually read sports online and give their opinion on football articles in between working hours.
"I have heard about Facebook and instant messaging, but I'm too old for that" said Mohammed Abbass, a 45-year-old medical doctor and football fanatic. "I do, however, read the sports websites often when I'm at work. I can't live without that. I don't want to spend on newspapers. Sports is life and we can't live without it, even at work."
"Egyptians are obsessed with football, and winning league matches can seem like a matter of life or death. So, whatever means we can use to keep our discussions alive, we would do it even at the expense of our work. Not even Brazil can match this," noted Abbass who is a die-hard supporter of Zamalek.
Before the advent of social networking, Egyptians in general met at cafés and market centers to discuss football. "It was face-to-face. We used to fight each other when it became heated. We fight with anything that is available from chairs to whatever. I think, in a way, social networks have saved the situation," said Mohammed Shawarby, a university student.
Hassan works with an IT firm at Manial, a suburb of Cairo, Egypt. He said his entire office is full of Zamalek fans and any time they win a game against arch-rivals Al-Alhy his boss virtually gives them a break. "We work, but it's not like days that Zamalek did not play. We talk football all day and it's fun. We make sure we cover the lost time in the days ahead. We are used to the style now, so I don't think it affects our profit very much. It rather creates a healthy football atmosphere and rapport with my colleagues," he added.